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Berlin sleep-debt snatches : 4—Monday


So, after four days and nine attempts, I finally discovered a new film that I can more than luke-warm enthusiastic about. Near misses have included The Exploding Girl from Wednesday, Burrowing, Ricky and The Happiest Girl in the World fron Thursday, and Distant from Friday. But then Saturday morning kicked off with a press screening of the film reviewed below.


My Dear Enemy (Meotjin haru; Lee Yoon-Ki; South Korea 2008; 123m), Berlinale Forum

Ex hits the spot in My Dear Enemy, a winningly deadpan comedy of love and social awkwardness from Korean writer-director Lee Yoon-Ki (best known for 2004 hit This Charming Girl) Poor word-of-mouth was blamed for its disappointing showing at domestic box-offices last October, but this is a classy, well-observed affair that deserves the warmer reception it will receive around the international film-festival circuit.

There's also distinct remake potential here: it's easy to imagine, say, Reese Witherspoon and Colin Farrell in the central roles of uptight Hee-Soo (Jeon Do-Yeon) and Byoung-Woon (Ha Jung-Woo), the jack-the-lad former boyfriend whom she pesters, over the course of a long day and evening in downtown Seoul, over repayment of a long-standing debt. Any Stateside remake would need a tighter focus, however: as is often the case with commercial Korean cinema, the material is stretched thin to reach the local market's standard two-hour running-time.

But even if the pace flags from time to time, it's never a chore to hang out with this ill-matched duo—Jeon's breezy, live-for-the-moment dreamer Byoung-Woon makes particularly good company (the appealing actor is near-unrecognisable as the meek-mannered psychopath from last year's thriller The Chaser). A glib charmer with an eye for the ladies and a stream of ready patter (captured nicely via the slangy English-language subtitles), Byoung-Woon initially comes over as a slippery heel, especially when—in the course of calling in numerous small debts in order to give Hee Soo the hefty sum she's owed—he places his ex in some humiliating positions.

While Ha's nuanced performance poignantly reveals her superficially tough character's sensitivity and vulnerability, the situations she ends up in with Byoung-Woon are essentially comic—some of them, indeed, are laugh-out-loud hilarious, all the more so for being presented with the straightest of faces. As the day shades into night, it becomes apparent that she realises that her cash-obsessed lifestyle is much less of a recipe for happiness that Byoung-Woon's jauntily happy-go-lucky approach—but the picture thankfully doesn't go overboard on its life-lessons theme. Serious-minded audiences may even interpret the contrast between Byoung-Woon and Hee-Soo as a sly critique of Korea's mercantile, money-oriented culture—a running subtext illustrated by the lively range of urban locales visited over the course of the movie.


At the halfway point, it's looking like a five-way race between [1] Moodysson's Mammoth (booed and cheered at the press screening, and thus has the makings of a succes de scandale along the lines of last year's winner Elite Squad), [2] Farhadi's About Elly from Iran, [3] Bouchareb's London River (which I plan to get up and see tomorrow first thing) and the German duo of [4] Ade's Everyone Else (perhaps the most universally liked of the competitors so far unveiled) and [5] Schmid's Storm. Latest odds: 4/1 Moodysson, 9/2 Farhadi, 11/2 Bouchareb, 8/1 Ade, 10/1 Schmid, with the remainder headed by as-yet-unscreened dark-horse Strickland (Katalin Varga) alongside veteran Wajda (Sugar Rush). Still, pretty open, with no consensus masterpiece either present or expected.


He's back in the Stadtklause on Friday night, apparently. I've been calling in each evening for research purposes, with consumption of beer and sausages (cheap, good value) purely incidental. Across the street is a church which I'm intrigued by. I normally have no time for churches, but this one—looks late 19th, early 20th century—is an exception. I finally realised why today: it looks a bit like the disused house-of-worship in downtown Los Angeles that is the main location for John Carpenter's terrific 1989 Prince of Darkness. It's officially the St Lukas Church, Kreuzberg—that Germanized form of "Luke" surely a tip from above that my Moodysson hunch may well prove correct. The location opposite the Stadtklause is also evidence of a divine plan: among other celestial duties, St Luke is the patron saint of brewers.

More anon.

I think you may have mixed up the actors in My Dear Enemy…Ha Jung-Woo plays Byeong-woon, and Jeon Do-yeon plays Hee-Soo.
St. Luke might be good enough for Berlin, but the church in the Carpenter is called St. Godard’s. I’ve always wondered what denomination that’d be.
Addendum: apparently Catholic:

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